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Dreaming of a mindful Christmas

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yule tide carols being sung by a choir. And folks dressed up like eskimos.”

Is there a time of year more evocative than Christmas? The taste, the smell, the sound, the sight, the feel of it. I spent many of my younger years in Germany, where Christmas had a magic all of its own. St Nicholas Eve on 5th December was a night for children to polish up their act, and their shoes. Good behaviour was rewarded if you left your clean shoe or sock on the doorstep overnight and the next day you might find a little present or treat. St Nicholas is widely believed to be the original inspiration behind Santa Claus. He was the patron saint of children and a man who gave away his wealth to help the needy.

This spirit of generosity and its association with the festive season has stayed with me my whole adult life. Along with it, a love of the smell of real Christmas trees, the simple beauty of paper decorations, the twinkle of Christmas lights, the heart-warming sound of carols and the flicker of candlelight.

Why then have my adult Christmases become the antithesis of everything I love about the season? Instead of a gentle, generous, peaceful time, Christmas induces a kind of stress and hyperactivity that is only exacerbated by too many mince pies and too much festive fizz. By the end of November, I have become obsessed with finding the perfect Christmas presents and cramming in as many ‘experiences’ as possible. By the time Christmas Day arrives, I’m usually wondering whether 10am is too early to have Bucks Fizz and whether the present opening marathon will finish before it gets dark.

Last year, a local lockdown scuppered our plans with family and at the last minute we were left trying to make the best of things with the four of us and our furry friend at home. In years gone by, I might have fantasised about this, but it would have been pre-planned and much anticipated.

What it served to do though was to break a cycle that for years had left me feeling more and more disillusioned. In the past, the perceived pressure to create an amazing Christmas, especially for our children, has led to:

- A Centre Parcs break, where we saw Santa three times in as many days

- Winter Wonderland in London where we managed to part with £95 in the first 20 minutes

- Days spent trying to bag pantomime tickets having left it too late

- Dragging ourselves out to a village in the middle of nowhere which promised the best street lights display for miles

- Booking the Christmas lights at Bedgebury two years in a row only to have to cancel once because of a clash with our son's Christmas disco and then simply forgetting about it last year until our friends (who were meeting us there) messaged to ask where we were. I blame Covid brain for that one

The pinnacle of this madness has to be the year my youngest was born. In what can only be assumed was a rush of hormones, I decided to invite my Mum, brother and his new family, sister and her boyfriend to ours for Christmas. Poppy was only 6 weeks old. I realised two days before Christmas that I’d bought presents for everyone except Poppy and found myself still surrounded by wrapping paper at 1am on Christmas Day.

This year I’m taking a big step back. I’ve realised that I’ve lost touch with Christmas really means to me. I’ve decided to slow down, take stock and try a different approach. So, if recent years have left you wondering whether the world (and you) have gone crazy, maybe our guide to a slow, mindful Christmas will help. Subscribe to the newsletter on our homepage to read the guide and start the festive season as you mean to go on.

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